Saturday, May 14, 2011

Change Challenges

Sometimes I wonder why it is so hard to introduce technology change in organizations. While planning a new enterprise system implementation several years ago I discovered that everyone said the old system was bad and had to be replaced. After we installed the new system, everyone blissfully reminisced about how wonderful the old system was. If this reaction happened once for one technology change I would understand. But seems to be a consistent reaction to technology change.

Is the reason human nature, or how we approach technology change? The very nature of the word technology might have a small part to play in the problem. The word technology is derived from "knowledge of technique." Not "cool gadgets are fun" or "my new iPad will change the world." I would suggest that the etymology of the word of technology reveals an interesting perspective on how to introduce technical change to an organization.

What if we paid more attention to understanding the technique needed to use new technology, rather than the technology itself? To address technique we naturally focus on process improvement. Let's try to improve our processes at the same time we implement new technology to ensure the technology is optimally used and the organization is appropriately prepared to apply the new technology.  Makes sense, but I've seen serious resistance to this approach too. Changing process concurrently with new technology implementation isn't enough.

I suspect we implement change with blinders on. We have a narrow focus on planting new technology using advanced processes but ignore the fertility of the ground. What about looking at the rate of technology change relative to the rate of culture change in your organization? How fast does your organization's culture change relative to its outside environment? How fast are you planning to implement new technology internally? I suggest that anytime you introduce technological change faster than the natural pace of change in your organization, you are going to have change challenges. Conversely, anytime you introduce technology slower than the internal change rate you get stagnation.

Is first prize matching the rate of technology change with the acceptable rate of organizational change? Is that the ideal synchronization? Nope. How do you compete or derive a competitive advantage if you simply plant the same crops the same way every year? The challenge is how do we increase our rate of technology change without the resistance caused by being faster than our natural organizational rhythm of change?

I suggest you change the culture first, and then introduce the new technology. When the rate of technology change has to be faster than the rate of organization change, the culture has to change first. Make sure the field has all the nutrients needed to grow a new crop and you will reap what you sow. But changing an organizational culture is a lot harder than buying a new technology. I'm afraid that too often we take the path of least resistance and try to use technology to drive the organization change. In this field of endeavour, maybe we have put the plough before the horse.



  1. Hi Mark,
    No doubt that change is a process. The change in technology is just a conduit to the actual change of process or outcomes. I think that the definitive article on leading change was written by Kotter. His article is available at

    He later made this into a book, which I highly recommend if you are going to lead a large scale change.

    I also think that organizations are more ready for change at some times than other times. The obvious example is when there is a change in leadership. :)

    Good luck and have fun.
    See you in Hamilton.

    Sean M.

  2. Thanks Sean - you're right, Kotter wrote the textbook.

    My thoughts were reflections on past experiences. Many times I observed technology leading the organizational charge, when it should have been following the culture change.


  3. I think a significant part of the equation is the "Four Stages of Competence" -- learning new things, including new interfaces and new tools -- pushes people from feelings of "conscious competence" (Yay me!) to "conscious incompetence" (Crap! I *suck* at this!) which is an inherently difficult place for most people.

    Wynn Anne

  4. You're right - "conscious incompetence" is tough. But that's when you are really open and ready to accept new ideas and learn new things.